Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Weekend is Approaching...

and we haven't had an "Ask The Mad Pulp Bastard A Question" Day in awhile.

So, feel free to shoot me a question tomorrow and Saturday and I will answer them all in the comments section. The rules are you can ask me anything you want and I have to answer - my writing, producing, lovelife, hobbies - all those burning questions you just have to know.

The intent here is to promote discussion and allow everyone to meet one another, but it usually means I get to find out what's really on my readers' minds (such as they are), and you get to have your worst fears confirmed.

The clock starts!


wcdixon said...

What's the biggest (real money) budget you've had for a feature length you've written and/or produced..and how was the result? Conversely, what's the smallest budget of something you were pleased with the finished product?

Cunningham said...

DOT COM FOR MURDER was $2.5M and the movie was slow and confused. It starred Nastassja Kinski, Roger Daltrey, Nicolette Sheridan and Huey Lewis. I was a producer on that one.

SCARECROW was hectic, but fun and was produced for $100K. I think it was especially fun because I was involved from beginning (development) to end (selling the movie worldwide).

One of the most pleasant scripting experiences I've had is I was hired to write P*R*NH* P*RK (the producer wants to keep the title mum). I wrote the first draft in 18 days and rewrote it in two weeks. Producers gave me a minimal one-page outline and a title and I filled in the rest. A fun movie that has the gore and the doesn't take itself too seriously...

It still hasn't been made.

wcdixon said...

Thanks Bill. I think its educational to hear some of the numbers (though I realize they can be all over the map but 100k - 2.5 mil seems to be the range...the limited experience I have playing that game actually put the top end at around 1.5 - 1.8 mil because anything higher than that became difficult to guarantee recoupment)...and yes, I have seen both of those films, back when I was doing research for a series of horror/thrillers.

Cunningham said...

Yes, we definitely overspent on DOT COM. I was skewed older than it should have been. The plot was perfect for a 'teen' horror-thriller. When you have that cast though - it doesn't work money-wise. Even when you have Melinda Clarke pre-THE OC.

The lessons we learned on SCARECROW were invaluable and taught me how to write for the budget and schedule. If we had it to do all over again it would have been a much tighter and coherent film...and scarier.

ME said...

Let's talk about DARK SHADOWS for a minute, please. Do you remember the original and the remake? Did you like them? What were the strengths and weaknesses?

This show has been plaguing my mind recently. Why do you suppose that is? I'm wondering if my subconscious is trying to tell me that someone like the CW may need an anti-OC to connect with all the emo kids and I should develop a younger and hipper new generation

I heard an unsubstantiated rumour that Fox has yet another re-make on their development slate, but can't confirm this.

Thoughts? Comments?

I will offer a romance update for those of you who care ... New Year's guy is history (but he's fine after the accident, car is very much not, though). And a new guy looms on the horizon ... I'd say we're pre-dating, if that makes sense. He's a meteorologist for a major airline. Seriously.

Eleanor said...


So, erm, when is next time?
Could you also give a bit more info around what the Title Header thingies have to convey - I apologise for being thick, I can be far too logical sometimes, and while I can sense part of what you mean, I kinda need the message wrapped around a brick and slammed into my skull. *rolls eyes*

Andrew Bellware said...

It seems that the "micro studios" use budgets of between $60,000 and $100,000 and that they seem to be able to stay alive at that level.

Does that typically make sense financially for direct-to-dvd product? There seems to be a bit of a consensus on this budget level so is that about the budget level one can use to make enough money on the average title in order to continue to make more titles?

I'm asking because I'm trying to budget a slate of scifi/horror pictures.

Also, have you noticed that Blockbuster has been carrying unrated DVD's lately? Is getting an MPAA rating less important now for home video releases?


Neal Romanek said...

Question: Are films really viable low-budget products any more - especially in pulp and horror? Is it possible to achieve the same effects, the same entertainment result, and reach the same - perhaps even a large audience using multi-platform media - text, web, merchandise? Should making & distributing a film be one of the last, more matured, elements of a project/franchise lifecycle?

Cunningham said...

Sorry for the delay. I had to go to work. Now I'm sitting having breakfast at the delightful SIDEWALK CAFE in Glendale (Glenoaks and Highland)...

Caroline -

You mean the show with Jonathan Frid and David Selby with vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks? The one made in the 60's and was remade with Ben Cross in the 90's?

No, I don't remember it a bit...

The "cool" of Dark Shadows was the expressionistic, gothic setpieces which were videotaped in odd angles because right off camera was a stage hand holding the smoke machine. It was intitially a romance which made a right turn with the intro of Barnabas, a vampire with a tortured soul. He was vicious and cruel, but given all he had gone through - you understood him.

When vampires worked, they moved onto the rest of the pantheon of Universal horrors.

I didn't like the remake so much... I don't know why - maybe casting, maybe it traded one look for another, calmer production design.

Could it work today? Yes, I think so. My "reboot" on it would be to make it a teen show told from the perspective of David Collins, the young lad who at one point in the original series was possessed by spirits.

(Another bit o' trivia - Kate Jackson of Charlie's Angels fame was once on the show)

Part of the original downfall of DS was the shift from horror and the supernatural to "scifi" explanations for the weird that was going on. There was an alien invasion from another dimension at one point, which to me violated the template of the show.

Neal Romanek said...

I of course bring up this subject, because the new project, "Cyclopedia Of Worlds", is dependent on continuously cross-platforming media - with a web hub to it. Feature film material will probably be cost-prohibitive for a while, because of the size and scale of the material. But rather than altering the project to fit the media platform, the most viable media platform currently available is chosen without suffering loss of quality in the material. So we go from web community to (later this year) novels, to graphic novels, available budget allows.

Have a look:

Cunningham said...

Eleanor -

Real life intruded. It will be up next week with appropriate linkage to some resources you can use.

You aren't thick. If you keep saying that I will hit you upside the noggin' with a brick...

Cunningham said...

Andrew -

the micro studios use the cheeseburger model. They don't spend a lot on any of them, or make a lot on any one, but they serve a lot of burgers and charge out the ass for fries.

Asylum makes (and acquires)about 20 movies a year. York used to have a new release every week along with rereleases and catalog specials - about 60 titles a year.

If you're going to develop a slate think in those terms. Spend more time in development and maximize crew and prop resources by getting package deals.

Re: Ratings - not so much for BB, but still important for other retail outlets. FYI _ studios usually make more money on the unrated versions of a film than they do with the rated versions.

MPAA is a hassle because you not only have to have the movie rated, but you have to have the art rated, the ad campaigns, trailers if they can be seen by the public, etc...many hoops to jump through.

I don't know the rating system in Canada - anyone care to shed light there?

Cunningham said...

Neal -

what I THINK you're hinting at is should a film be the last thing you do in the development of a intellectual property?

That depends...

Opportunities abound everywhere and some times you can sell an idea as a comic series or webisodes before you get the movie deal.

The author of DANCES WITH WOLVES was told to write it as a novel first so he would have more clout. I can disagree with that, because studios want properties that are near fully formed and have audiences already - HARRY POTTER, LION WITCH WARDROBE, LORD OF THE RINGS, BATMAN, etc...

But we also have guys like Stan Lee, whose brand allows him to do deals based on basic character outlines. He has LIGHTSPEED out on DVD now (a SciFi Channel premiere) and THE CONDOR which he did with Cartoon Net.

But it took him over 45 years to get to the point and he had to co-create SPIDERMAN, IRON MAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, DAREDEVIL, etc...

My advice? Get it out there any way you can, build an audience, and go from there.

Curt Purcell said...

Bill--how long before you think movies will go completely discless, and just go straight to downloads, like music is doing? What will that do to extras (i.e. will they be separately downloadable, or will it all come in a package, or what?)?

Also, part of the cornerstone of your philosophy seems to be that d2dvd is the new pulp. If that's so, what among it in particular will survive to be loved and embraced with nostalgia in decades to come?

Cunningham said...

Curt -

I may be in the minority here, but I think discs are going to be around for awhile as it's a very stable medium to use.

In ten years time, digital download will be stable enough to take over, but it will take shockproof, virus proof storage mediums.

Extras will be part of the package somehow. Right now, they don't include them on some download services, because the copyright owners want you to seek out the DVD. That will change.

Just like VHS, the whole download thing will depend on ease of use, dependability and competitive pricing.

Re: The New pulp - movies like CARLITO'S WAY: RISE TO POWER is an example of a good movie that will endure. MOSQUITO MAN (aka MANSQUITO) has an audience. KING OF THE ANTS.

Cunningham said...

Re: Dances with Wolves - mean't to say, "Can't disagree with that..."

Typing too fast with my four fingers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,

I'm about to shop a script to the D2DVD world and I'm putting together collateral material to help a potential buyer 'see' the production on paper. So far I'm working on:

-One paragraph synopsis
-One page synopsis
-Cast and location reports
-Character breakdowns for casting

Anything I'm missing?


Tim McGregor

Cunningham said...

If it's just the script then all you'll need are the logline, a one page synopsis, and a great title.

All three better rock.
Anything else will be too much. You're selling you and your storytelling ability, so:

Hook 'em with the concept.
They'll read the synopsis then the script.
If they enjoy it and think it will sell, they'll look at it further.
When they see it can be produced on the same budgets they have done before, then they'll be very happy.

Cast lists and locations are superfluous if you aren't the producer - those things don't sell a movie. A good concept and a great script that can be produced does.

Christopher Sharpe said...

So say you've made one low-budget movie that has had a certain level of success... or at least shows that you can make a movie.

What's the best way to move up to the next level? If you're going to do a a $100K movie, should you raise money from independent investors or are there D2DVD companies that would finance this sort of thing?

I'm not talking about pitching a script that they would produce/develop, but rather a whole package: Here's the script, here's who is doing it, the package will be delivered to you on this date...

Christopher Sharpe said...

Since you are answering everything, I'll go for a few more...

HD-DVD and BLU-RAY - are movies released on these formats doing any serious business? Is the fact that there are these "new" formats eroding DVD sales?

CD said...

I'm working with some buddies on a comic book that I think would also make an excellent low-budget-ish horror movie.

What would be the best way to package up something like that to interest a producer? Comic book plus treatment? Comic book plus script?


Cunningham said...

Chris -

First off , you have to demonstrate that your movies have made money - not that you can make a movie. You are closer than many other guys though because you have a distribution deal.

The next step to do a $100K movie would be to put the whole package together - cast, crew, schedule, script and the appropriate legal docs - then shop for a letter of interest from a distributor.

THEN - go get private money. Set up an LLC.

When the movie is finished and ready to deliver (right away this time) then shop for a distributor from those who've shown interest...and their direct competitor. Aim high.

At 100K though you must shoot on 24P or the equivalent film (35mm).

Re: HD and Blu-Ray - they aren't eroding sales as 2006 ended the year 10% higher than previous years. It is simply replacing regular DVD slowly - same as when DVD replaced VHS.

Cunningham said...

Chaco - has the comic been published by someone yet? (or is scheduled to be?). Are there recognized sellable elements involved (hot writer or artist well-known in the comics industry and/or beyond)?

If not, then publish it first. It needs to demonstrate that it has an audience. You need to generate buzz amongst people not associated with the project.

If someone thinks they can make money off of it - then they'll beat a path to your door (or your agent's door).

When I was at York as their Director of Marketing, part of my job was to seek out areas we could move into, and comics was one of those areas. I contacted several publishers with what we thought was our strongest property at the time - SCARECROW - which had three completed movies, another in development, and a television series proposal. I got no traction whatsoever except from one guy who said he would publish it if we paid for the creative (writing and art). I tried working it out where we would do that, but get the back cover for advertising the movies...

Long story short - I left the company before I could complete the deal and in my absence it fell apart (Not bragging, just stating fact).

The fact is you need to build a property and its audience unless you want to either sell the story outright or finance it yourself.

wcmartell said...

The Nudes have gone to the Moon, will they ever get to Mars?

- Bill

Cunningham said...

Only with atomic motors...

wcdixon said...

Your fav cd, mainstream movie, Hollywood starlet, and tv series from this past year?

Cunningham said...

CD is going to be a tough one since I program via ipod and listen to batches of stuff based on what I'm writing. Right now I'm listening to a Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, ACDC, Bowie and Van Halen mix.

Mainstream movie would have to be The Incredibles or was that 2005? I liked V for Vendetta, Wedding Crashers...and yes, I liked King Kong.

Natalie Portman and Rachel Bilson tie for my fave "starlet." Though Rachel McAdams and Jessica Alba are cute too, but sadly I am too old for them. Or is it they are too old for me? I get that one confused...

Fave series? That's easy - Hustle. Hands down the best show on tv. Well written and well produced and always sets the bar really high. period. 24 and Battlestar come in second. Spooks and Prison Break third and fourth.

My favorite book from this past year (besides Crafty TV Writing!) has been the third volume of TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN. Sounds egotistical but I still pinch myself that I'm in a book with some of my heroes. I just finished Cell by Stephen King which was good but not his best. HOODTOWN by Christa faust was great pulp.

The rest of my reading has been taken up with art books that I'm using on the job to get my ideas across to designers. Lots of design stuff from Taschen along with various profile books of artists and styles.

wcdixon said...

They're too old for

The Incredibles was actually 2004. Not too much impressing you it would seem. I saw 'Children of Men' tonight and it was pretty frakin' amazing.

ME said...

Children of Men, really? I know precisely six people who've seen it and they are equally split love it or hate it, no middle ground on this puppy. I haven't gone to see it ... those pre/post apoctalyptic movies just don't do it for me, and neither does Clive Owen ... I think he's a tad overrated, but that's just me.

OK, here's the tough question ... if you weren't doing what you were doing and didn't work in this industry, what would you have done or what might you do later on if things go pear-shaped? I think I would probably go back to school and become a lawyer, but work non-profit, not corporate. I may still, but later on.

Cunningham said...

I would probably flip houses. I have a ton of DWELL and MET HOME mags here at the house as architecture and design have always been an interest. I also like furniture.

We had a good woodshop in our garage when I was growing up and I made lots of stuff. I became good with my hands and know how to swing a hammer. I think my mom still has a picture frame I made for her when I was in 3rd grade.

I may still do it as it's a good source of income for those that can handle the stress, which is something I'm used to.

Eleanor said...

Next week? :) Excellent!

Great blog, I wish I'd checked it out earlier!

James Moran said...

How would UK padawan pulpsters go about getting involved in the US pulp scene? And should they? In my (limited) experience, it's quite hard to get genre stuff taken seriously (let alone financed and made) over here, there's a lot of snobbiness about things that, hey, people might want to actually go and see. You and your fellow pulp bastards have a more realistic attitude, which is why I'm wondering out loud, on your blog. What do you reckon?

Cunningham said...

Eleanor thank you for the kind words...

James you're certainly on your way with SEVERANCE so I may have to ask you for a tip or twenty here...

It boils down to clout, and that means showing people you can make them money with genre material.

Now, what is Anchor Bay UK doing over there? They output a lot of genre material though I think the bulk of it is through licensing and not original production...

I would also attend the markets over there and talk to the American companies about what they want...Cannes/Mip, Mifed, Berlin.

It may involve your moving to the states...though that may not be necessary.

The only other thing I could think right off would be to do it all yourself outside the "system." Find financing from people outside the film industry there (if all they want to do is "art") and produce it yourself. Be an entrepreneur.

If they won't let you in the door, or you can't climb in through the window, build your own house next door.

Christopher Sharpe said...

James - I saw SEVERANCE at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and enjoyed the hell out of it. One of the better movies I saw during the festival and if you know what else played, that is high praise.

Michael said...

1. Thank you for your blog. It is very motivating.

2. I took the plunge and wrote and shot a feature length movie and am now looking at post production.

How much time do you allocate to edit a film (FCP or Avid) and what is the low end to budget for an editor? For post-sound?

What are other hard costs involved in having a product that can be delivered and sold?

Thank you.

James Moran said...

Bill: Thank you sir, sage advice as always. My knowledge of the businessy side of the business is shamefully poor.

Asphalt: Thank you too - I was at Fantastic Fest, and had a blast.

ME said...

Bill, interesting. The things you learn about people if you ask. Let's find a cool spin for your pulp house flipping and make a reality/lifestyle show about it for TLC or A&E :-)

Next question out to the herd ... maybe it is the January blahs, but despite having a ton of deadlines and things I should be doing, I'm having real trouble motivating myself and focusing on getting the work done. What helps you bust out of slacker mode?

Cunningham said...

Michael -

I hate to beg off but what you've asked is a HUGE question. There are posts of mine in the archives dealing with delivery items.

If you're in LA, you can get a n editor for $600/week who has their own FCP setup and can deliver a cut which you can use to conform your digibeta master. For SCARECROW we spent $25K or less for the full mix and post. We were able to do it that cheap because we used The Asylum's post equipment they had in-house.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael said...

Bill, thank you for your reply, and I did search and find more that you had written previously on the subject.

My one follow up, which I hope will be an easy answer for you, is how long do you allocate (in weeks) for post production to a deliverable package?

What is the time allocated for that in the pulp world?


Cunningham said...

Michael -

generally 6-8 weeks starting about three days into production. So if you start shooting on a monday, by thursday your editor should be cutting the first round into the rough assembly.

This goes faster if you're shooting video instead of film - no need to get the neg processed.